Social Anxiety Therapy London
You know you’re suffering from social anxiety (aka social phobia) when just the thought of having to meet up with a group of friends causes a mild state of panic. It can affect your sleep, and cause an array of psychological and physical symptoms, like blushing, sweating, memory loss and a complete shutting down.
There’s as many variations of social anxiety, as there are people. Some suffer in large groups, and others suffer when they have to be alone or intimate with just one person. It can be debilitating, and have a serious effect on the quality of your life.
Social anxiety disorder is a very common phenomenon, effecting around 5% of the population. Women are two to three times likely to suffer from social anxiety than men.
But there are effective social anxiety treatments available – if you need help to overcome social anxiety, please get in touch.
What is social anxiety?
Social Anxiety, also known as Social Phobia is an Anxiety Disorder. It often begins during teenage years, but can also start during childhood or in later life.
Anxiety is a normal response to stressful situations, so it would be appropriate to feel social anxiety if you were meeting people for the first time, going on a date or experiencing an unfamiliar environment. This type of anxiety tends to rescind as you become familiar with the situation or get to know the people involved.
But sometimes the level of anxiety you experience is way beyond you should be feeling for the situation. This is when it’s referred to as Social Anxiety, or Social Phobia – a debilitating condition which has a serious negative effect on all aspects of you life.
Social anxiety disorder can affect your relationships – friends, family and work colleagues. There might be a sense that all eyes are on you, or that others are judging and criticising you.
It can also hold you back from being the person you really are. Self expression can be painful, and it can be difficult to communicate with others about how you feel. It can also limit your ability to reach your creative potential and achieve your life goals.
Anyone suffering from social anxiety will tend to avoid social situations, social interactions and events, as the fear around attending is heightened. This fear will be felt before, during and after the event, despite the event going well. Social phobia can also lead to substance abuse, in an attempt to increase confidence. Or an over reliance on having the right people or conditions to feel comfortable.
Over time, there can be a drift towards isolation, which initially feels safer and less anxious, but can be lonely, and trigger depression, mental health issues, and even more anxiety. It can be hard to communicate to others, just how anxiety provoking leaving the house can be.
“As you come to understand yourself more, your feelings, thoughts and reactions, you’ll begin to see that being anxious is as more a personal choice than an infliction. The power is in your hands.”
The psychological symptoms of social anxiety
It’s normal to feel anxious in some social situations, but sometimes the anxiety can become unbearable. If you resonate with anything from the list below, you could be suffering from social anxiety disorder:
- Overwhelming stress about routine social situations
- A feeling of panic around meeting new people
- Feeling that you will be judged negatively by others
- Fear that you might become the centre of attention in a group
- Worry that you will make a bad impression
- Feelings of low self esteem, and not good enough
- Avoidance of social events that you’d like to be able to go to
- Not wanting to draw attention to yourself
- Your mind goes blank or confused when you try to speak to people
- Worry that your opinions will be negatively received
- Needing to drink or take drugs in order to socialise
- Worry that you will somehow be left humiliated
- Fear of people noticing your fear
- Experiencing panic attacks
- Always fully expecting the worst case scenario
- Negatively criticising yourself after a social event
- You find it difficult to make eye contact with others
- Feeling self conscious and stammering when talking to people
- You always make sure you’re in close proximity to an exit
- Not being able to speak to people of authority
- Feeling embarrassed about eating in public
- Excessively negative thoughts about how you are with others
The physical symptoms of social anxiety
As well as psychological and behavioural problems, there’s also distinct physical symptoms (psychosomatic symptoms) which can make social anxiety particularly uncomfortable:
- Nausea, or feeling like you’re about to throw up
- An upset stomach
- Excessive sweating
- Shaking or trembling uncontrollably
- An increased heart rate
- Blushing or flushing
- A shortness of breath or feeling you can’t breath
- Feeling dizzy or that you’re about to faint
- Feeling tense and restricted in your body
7 coping strategies for social anxiety disorder
Whenever you feel uncomfortable socially, the body goes into a natural fear reflex, often referred to as ‘fight or flight’. The breathing becomes faster, the heart rate increases, and the muscles become tense. That’s why it can sometimes feel like there’s a constriction in the chest, or it’s difficult to breath.
It’s possible to to consciously relax your body within social situations. Try breathing mindfully. Don’t change your breathing pattern – just watch it and accept it as it is. Once you can feel relaxed in a safe environment, see if you can maintain that state of relaxation while putting yourself in gently increasing stressful situations.
2. Face the fear
Once you’ve learnt to feel relaxed and confident in your own space, you can begin to test situations that provoke anxiety for you. The trick is to incrementally expose yourself to fearful events, through gradual exposure at a pace you’re comfortable with.
For example, if you feel fear of going to a restaurant, you can start with simply walking by the restaurant at a time when it’s closed, observing the reaction in your body and state of mind. If you feel a slight rise in fear, you might want to stop nearby, and wait for the anxiety to dissipate.
3. Focus on others
Part of social anxiety is focusing too much on yourself, and what others might be thinking of you. One trick is to consciously focus on other people. Develop a deep interest in whoever is in front of you, paying attention to what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, and their body gestures.
If you start feeling the physical symptoms of social anxiety – the blushing, shaking or shutting down, don’t feel you have to direct your attention to them. As uncomfortable as they are, you know that they’re not really a true indication of what’s going on.
Accept the sensations and feelings as they are, and without judgement.
4. Educate yourself
There’s many books and audio books you can read which help with social anxiety. There’s also a lot of information on the internet and YouTube. Social anxiety isn’t a permanent infliction, it’s imminently treatable. Make it your mission to find out as much as you can to empower yourself on your journey towards a better life.
5. Keep a check on your physical health
Think about your diet – there are some foods which can make you more anxiety prone, such as caffeine. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, full of energy sustaining, nutritious foods, and avoid too much sugar-based foods.
Regular exercise can also help you to feel energised and confident. If you don’t like exercising, long walks in nature can be a great way of combining exercise with relaxation.
6. Get professional help
Many people seek help from social anxiety treatment from a therapist. There’s many types of therapy that are effective for social anxiety disorder, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Psychodynamic therapy, Mindfulness therapy and hypnosis.
An integrative psychotherapist is trained in many therapies and modalities, and should be able to tailor the treatment to your individual needs.
Perhaps most important when seeking social anxiety treatment is that you find a mental health practitioner who you feel comfortable with. The relationship between therapist and client is scientifically proven to be one of the most valuable contributors to the therapy’s success.
7. Be compassionate
Think of yourself as you’d think of a small child. Give yourself all the time, acceptance and encouragement that you need. There’s nothing wrong with being socially anxious, and the more you’re able to be kind to yourself, the better you’ll feel.
See yourself as a work in progress, and when you catch yourself being self critical, take a moment to question the thought. Is that a good way to speak to someone who needs encouragement and acceptance?
What causes social anxiety?
Everybody is different, so it can take a while to identify what lies behind an individual’s social anxiety. There’s often, but not always, an element of psychological factors stemming from early childhood.
These might include parents who were overly critical or overly protective. They may have been overly anxious themselves, and passed the fear on without meaning to. They may not have been emotionally available enough, or even been abusive. Sometimes the atmosphere in a family can feel dangerous, causing the child to withdraw into their shell, in an attempt to make themselves invisible to stay safe.
Later on in life, as a child or adult, bullying and teasing can cause humiliation which gets retriggered in social encounters. Any type of abuse or discrimination – sexual, racial, can cause people to become fearful of others, and feel they are not good enough to be part of a group.
Sometimes a lack of socialisation can mean you haven’t learnt the skills needed to get on with others in a variety of situations. You might look at others and wonder how they’re able to be so free and expressive with people they hardly know.
Is there a socially anxious personality type?
Social anxiety disorder can affect all personality types, but mostly affect those with a more sensitive nature, and a more introverted character. Some people are naturally on the shy side, and it can take a while for them to feel comfortable with people. It can tie in with those who identify as ‘highly sensitive persons’ (HSPs), who also suffer from noisy and crowded environments.
Human beings are complex, each with our own history and unique way of responding to events around us. It can take some exploration to get to the underlying causes of low self confidence. There may be trauma involved, perhaps childhood abuse or neglect. Or it could be related to past relationships with people who have devalued you.
Your low self esteem may also involve depression or anxiety, or other mental health issues such as PTSD and CPTSD, which can also be effectively treated in therapy. Or it may stem from your identification with beliefs about yourself which need challenging. It can be hard to meet to meet the individual demands of people, and you might be suffering from feelings of ‘not being good enough’.
Treatment for social anxiety
Social anxiety is a common condition, and it’s possible to greatly reduce and even eliminate social anxiety with the right treatment. You may have read about some of the treatments:
- Counselling for social anxiety
- CBT for social anxiety
- Therapy for social anxiety
- Psychotherapy for social anxiety
I’m an integrative psychotherapist, trained in all four of the above approaches. It means the social anxiety treatment would be tailored to your individual needs. Private social anxiety treatment sessions involve working collaboratively on the following areas:
- Identifying exactly what triggers the anxiety
- Noticing the first signs of anxiety by improving body awareness
- Learning to tolerate feelings of anxiety
- Learning to relax the body within the midst of a social encounter
- Discovering the root causes of your anxiety
- Identifying and challenging negative self beliefs
- Learning social skills, step by step
- Developing an awareness of thought patterns
- Developing an increased level of introspection and self awareness
- Learning how to react to intrusive thoughts
- Looking at building a support network
- Thinking compassionately about yourself
By treating social anxiety, symptoms can become greatly reduced over time, and in a best case scenario, disappear altogether. Overcoming social anxiety can be a life changer, enabling you to socialise freely, and be yourself in all situations.